DAWSON, Ga. -- Officials with the Southwest Public Health District said Tuesday that an investigation by area law enforcement involving allegations of identity theft by an employee of the Terrell County Health Department has prompted an internal probe by the public health agency.
"We take patient privacy very seriously," said Dr. Jacqueline Grant, director of the health district, in a released statement. "We sincerely apologize to our patients and are notifying our patients of this regrettable situation so they can take appropriate action to protect their privacy."
Officials say the suspect's access to patient records has been blocked. To err on the side of caution, Grant said that letters are being sent to approximately 18,000 patients deemed at risk of having had their personal information compromised.
Public health officials say steps are currently being taken throughout the district to review polices and procedures already in place for the protection of patient privacy and confidentiality.
"Employees are fingerprinted and undergo criminal background checks as part of the hiring process," Grant said. "Immediately after being hired, employees undergo training in the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) Rule, which ensures the privacy of healthcare information. Once hired, employees receive annual HIPAA training."
The patients whose records may have been compromised are being urged to review bank and credit card accounts for unfamiliar transactions, and to request a free copy of their credit report and review it for unfamiliar entries.
"Our website, www.southwestgeorgiapublichealth.org, has instructions on how to request your free credit report and similar information," Grant said in the release.
Officials urge that any unauthorized activities be reported to authorities.
Terrell health department patients with questions can also call (229) 995-8435, or email firstname.lastname@example.org for help.